We need to confront gendered violence in movement spaces.

Read the original article at Feministing.

It’s easy to talk about gendered violence from conservative men because, well, their ideology is often consistent with their douchebaggery. When you’ve devoted your entire career to ranting against abortion rights on television or groping your way to a white-supremacist presidency, there’s a pretty clear and obvious connection between your stated values (sexist) and your actions (violent). 

What can be harder, but in some ways even more urgent, is calling out sexual harassment, sexual violence, and intimate partner violence in the progressive communities that many of us call home. I’ve been asked this question a couple times during conversations and campaigns related to gender justice in activist spaces recently: Why focus on progressive and activist men? Aren’t our political foes equally if not more guilty? Won’t highlighting sexual violence give a bad name to our movements?

Sometimes this question is asked  more out of naivete than gaslighting — surely, a nice radical boy will ask, the problem can’t be as bad among progressive people? Sometimes, this question is downright hostile — I’ve even had “radical” men tell me that feminism is antithetical to revolutionary movements (and then I realized why there is still value in the admittedly overused word “brosocialist”).

If we care about building just and egalitarian societies, we will fight gendered violence in our communities, period. This is a commitment that cuts to the very core of our movements, a marker of our willingness to pursue truly transformative politics which change social relations from broad systems down to our most intimate spaces and selves. We talk about gendered violence in activist spaces —

Because we have high expectations that our behavior will match our ideology

It can be hard to identify gendered violence in radical spaces because many of us can talk the talk of gender justice so damn well — but our behavior tells a much different story. Maybe a dude has been vocal in support of women leaders in the movement but has a reputation for sending unsolicited dick pics. Or a queer activist talks about fighting violence but talks down to her girlfriend in a way that makes everyone uncomfortable. Believing our own rhetoric, we can deny what’s right in front of us. But our rhetoric means nothing if we’re not putting it into practice. 

Because we are all learning to be better

We all come from the same fucked-up societies, and we’ve all imbibed patriarchal and heterosexist values from day one. Nobody is born a great feminist, or a committed socialist, or a powerful antiracist activist. Learning is also a form of labor and it’s one we all must partake in as a continual process of political growth. Inevitably there will be mistakes. Being uncertain about gender issues or occasionally messing up is okay; refusing to listen, learn, and grow from our mistakes is not. 

Because you are our comrades and we need to trust you for any movement to work

As Alex Press reminds us in In These Times, we cannot build powerful movements without basic trust and equality between us. Gendered violence is not only an act of serious ideological hypocrisy: it rots the trust in our communities, and therefore our movements, by maintaining the very hierarchies we claim to be fighting against. How can we fight side by side when women don’t trust that men will respect our basic rights to safety and bodily autonomy?

Because we are intimate

Gendered violence most often happens within personal relationships and communities — from lovers, partners, friends, acquaintances, and that dude your roommate chills with who gropes women at parties. Men in our movement spaces are our lovers, our comrades, and our friends. We are in the streets together, in meetings, and often in bed. Our politics don’t come off when our clothes do. We need you to demonstrate at every moment, through your labor and consideration, that you consider us your equals.

Because sexism is a structural barrier to women’s participation in politics

Whether we’re talking about education, the workplace, or activism, the dynamics are similar: gendered violence pushes women and queer people out of the system. When we are demeaned in political spaces, when we are sexually harassed, when our voices are not listened to, when we are made to do menial tasks and care work while our male comrades pose for the glamorous photo-ops, we are pushed out. That hurts our politics, our movements, our communities, and us.

Because prominent progressive men have a good deal of power in our circles, which can be abused

Just because you resist power doesn’t mean you lack it. Many activist men enjoy a good deal of social prestige in the circles they occupy. Activist men can use their social, political, and sexual capital to coerce. An activist becoming involved with someone else in the movement is normal and can be healthy. An activist using his clout and reputation to coerce romantic attention or sex is destructive and politically reprehensible.

Because progressive movements of various shades have a long history of exploiting women’s labor and neglecting the gender question

This isn’t a new issue, and if socialist and anti-racist movements of the past had adequately addressed gender-based violence, we maybe wouldn’t have to be having this conversation so emphatically today. Radical movements have often set out to transform everything but the basic assumption that women will cook food and provide sex for men. And for just as long, women have resisted. We hold you accountable in full knowledge of that history.

Because our politics are only as good as our practice

We can say all day that we’re politically better than the right, better than the center, better than liberals. But saying is one thing and doing is another. If you organize a meeting about gender issues at which you talk over women, expect women to clean everyone’s dishes, and stare at our tits, you might as well be right wing. Many argue that the accusation of sexism has been used to discredit leftist movements more generally, and therefore women who raise qualms about gender issues in radical circles are simply fueling the fire. But if we cannot treat each other with basic equality and respect, we are not any better than the right or center after all and we do notdeserve to have our political program listened to. 

Because we believe in the possibility of transformation

Making radical change means acknowledging and confronting the injustices around us. If we don’t acknowledge that something is a problem, we cannot transform it. When we know that a prominent man in our community is a serial harasser, but don’t speak up; when we know an organizer is abusing his girlfriend, but continue to uncritically champion his work; when we see unequal gendered distributions of labor within our movements but we don’t name and challenge it, we give up the possibility of change. Shielding a perpetrator, rather than confronting the harm they have caused, is tantamount to saying: We don’t believe gender relations can change. We don’t believe social relations can be transformed.

Because our movements should look like the world we want to build

But we do believe gender relations can be changed. We do believe that social relations can be transformed. That is why we do this work: Because we know that we can make a radically different, and better, world. During the May ’68 revolts, students reminded us through graffiti that “The future will only contain what we put into it now.” If our movements don’t seek a transformative approach to dealing with gender-based violence, our future will not be transformed. There is no social change if we do not believe in the possibility of change in our most intimate and intense experiences of love, solidarity, sexuality, friendship and comradeship.

Because women and queer people have a right to participate in our communities, to work, to love, and to make revolution without fear of gender-based violence.

Because we have worth. Because we need each other. Because these movements are ours.



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